Community perceptions of paediatric severe anaemia in Uganda

Aggrey Dhabangi, Richard Idro, Chandy C. John, Walter H. Dzik, Godfrey E. Siu, Robert Opoka, Florence Ayebare, Michael B. van Hensbroek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Severe anaemia remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality among children in sub-Saharan Africa. There is limited research on the beliefs and knowledge for paediatric severe anaemia in the region. The effect of these local beliefs and knowledge on the healthcare seeking of paediatric severe anaemia remains unknown.


To describe community perceptions of paediatric severe anaemia in Uganda. Methods Sixteen in-depth interviews of caregivers of children treated for severe anaemia and six focus group discussions of community members were conducted in three regions of Uganda between October and November 2017.


There was no common local name used to describe paediatric severe anaemia, but the disease was understood in context as ‘having no blood’. Severe anaemia was identified to be a serious disease and the majority felt blood transfusion was the ideal treatment, but concomitant use of traditional and home remedies was also widespread. Participants articulated signs of severe pediatric anemia, such as palmar, conjunctival, and tongue pallor. Other signs described included jaundice, splenomegaly, difficulty in breathing and poor appetite. Poor feeding, malaria, splenomegaly and evil spirits were perceived to be the common causes of severe anaemia. Other causes included: human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), haemoglobinuria, fever, witchcraft, mosquito bites, and sickle cell. Splenomegaly and jaundice were perceived to be both signs and causes of severe anaemia. Severe anaemia was interpreted to be caused by evil spirits if it was either recurrent, led to sudden death, or manifested with cold extremities.


The community in Uganda perceived paediatric severe anaemia as a serious disease. Their understanding of the signs and perceived causes of severe anaemia to a large extent aligned with known clinical signs and biological causes. Belief in evil spirits persists and may be one obstacle to seeking timely medical care for paediatric severe anaemia.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalPaediatrics and Child Health, East Africa
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Cite this